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Thursday, December 20, 2012

Pandoras and 18th century fashion mannequins

If you're interested in 18th century clothing then in all likelihood you've read about Pandoras. 
Known as early as the late 14th century, these little wooden figures or poupées de la mode were used to advertise the latest fashions. 
A small dressed doll-like figure could more easily be transported to distant cities to promote the latest styles rather than a full-sized outfit.
The original doll-sized figures of  the first half of the 18th century, gradually increased and assumed more life-sized proportions though I can't see large Pandoras being transported across Europe. They were more likely the forerunner of our store mannequins allowing ladies to see the full effect of stylish new modes.
During the War of Spanish Succession when France was at loggerheads with England, a special dispensation was made to allow Pandoras in all their finery to cross the border (despite a trade embargo) such was the demand for the latest fashions from Paris.
This life-sized mannequin from Pelham Galleries circa 1765 is complete with beautiful sacque covered in metallic lace, paste brooch, paste sleeve buckles (HOLY COW - never thought of that innovation), pearl earrings, wig and wooden shoes painted to match the dress. 
At 5'9" she is well and truly life-sized even by modern standards. She is mounted on an iron pole which perhaps allowed her to be swivelled around to show off various features of the toilette.
I am truly fascinated by these figures. This one has intricately carved hands which would have made dressing her more difficult if my experience with dolls hands are anything to go by. The right hand is carved with the thumb and index finger touching. The left in true Gallic fashion seems to be in an attitude of asking 'pourquoi?'.
It's worth reading the full description of this lovely girl at the link above which has good zoomable pictures, and there is a good image of the back of the wig styling.
Oh how I wish I could see how she was constructed. But those sleeve and sleeve buckles alone a delight. I can see them in my future!
Photos from the Pelham Galleries website.


  1. Like standard mannequins of today, her arms are probably jointed and removable to facilitate ease of dressing.

    1. Good thinking 99. Perhaps the hands were put on after the sleeves had gone up the arm. I had many a battle royal getting sleeves up and over Barbie hands!!!!! Those little fingers got stuck in seams, threads and lace sooooo easily.

  2. I too have never heard of sleeve buckles so now this leads me down the rabbit hole in search of them. These are certainly fascinating creatures.

    1. I know and don't they look the BOMB! Soooo elegant.
      A cursory search online doesn't even rate a mention of sleeve buckles. They look like they might have been the size of small shoe buckles so perhaps if they weren't hugely popular any extant examples are now lumped together under the helpful heading of 'paste buckles' or even 'paste shoe or knee buckles'.
      Gonna have to work them into my dress plans!